The Public Law Working Group (PLWG) has published an interim report containing draft recommendations for best practice in respect of adoption. A final report is expected in early 2024, following consultation over the next two months.
Chapter 1 of the interim report deals with adoption and contact. Indirect and letterbox contact remains the predominant contact provision post adoption in England and Wales. The report observes that the current system whereby face-to-face contact is the exception rather than the rule is outdated and calls for a sea change in approach. Training – of prospective adopters, social workers, lawyers and judges – about the benefits of open adoption for many children is identified as key to bringing about that change. Ongoing support for birth parents, to enable them to understand and accept their role in post adoption contact, is also important.
The recommendations envisage that a specific named ‘adoption social worker’ will be actively involved at an early stage and remain involved after the placement order is made. The adoption social worker will provide a line of communication with the birth parents so that the adoption social worker can monitor and reassess the ability of a relative/other to have contact after proceedings have ended.
The key recommendations include:
- (i) The social worker should identify at the pre-proceedings stage people in the child’s network who are significant to the child and who can play a role in post adoption contact. That role might include providing background information and ongoing news about significant family members, reassuring the child that they are remembered or facilitating a positive contact experience.
- (ii) The social worker’s final statement should include an assessment of the ability of any identified person to maintain contact post adoption.
- (iii) The final statement should also include an analysis of all possible forms of contact, balancing the welfare benefits for the subject child against any safeguarding issues. If direct contact is not considered to be beneficial at this stage, it should recommend whether a reconsideration of direct contact should take place at a later stage.
- (iv) The adoption support plan should encompass a contact support plan and this should be available in draft form for consideration by the court before making a placement order.
- (v) Should letterbox contact be recommended there should be exploration of digital options.
- (vi) As a minimum, all siblings who are not placed together should receive the information suggested in the “Charter for Siblings” set out in Beckett’s ‘Beyond Together & Apart’ practice guide.
- (vii) Courts should consider, in the right case, making an order under section 51A ACA 2002 to facilitate a review of contact by the court after the adoption order has been made.
The report recognises that imposing an order on unwilling adopters is a very serious matter and that the decision of the Court of Appeal in Re B (A Child) (Post adoption Contact)  2 FLR 117 outlines the limits in which it is appropriate. The aspiration is that, with greater support and training for all concerned, decisions about contact can be made by consent.
There is a table of post-adoption case law which lawyers will find useful and templates for different types of post adoption contact agreement. Other areas covered by the interim report are access to records, practice and procedure, international adoption and consensual adoption. The consultation closed on 30 November 2023.